First solo: Eric Coburn

We recently asked pilots on our Facebook page to share the story of their first solos. Here’s Eric Coburn’s story: I soloed on May 1, 1972. It was my 16th birthday. I had flown many hours with my father prior to that day. I can remember flying when I was 10 years old but my Mom and Dad said I started flying years before that. My father tells the story about my first flight: It was at Goshen Airport, Goshen, Indiana, and it was in an open cockpit while sitting on my father’s lap. While taxiing out he remembers I kept yelling “I want Mom!” But as soon as we lifted off I was just fine and wanted to see everything. After that I was hooked.

Whenever my Dad would leave the house, I went with him, because I knew he was probably going somewhere where there was an airplane. During my childhood years I would fly with my father every chance I could get. He actually taught me how to fly back then and when I turned 15 he set me up with an instructor at Wawasee Airport in Syracuse, Indiana. Wawasee is a grass strip about 2,800 feet long.

Then on May 1, 1972, my 16th birthday, and after getting ready to head to school, my father told me I was not going to school that morning, but to go with him. We drove to the airport where my instructor was waiting for me. The Cherokee 140 was full of fuel and after I did my preflight I got in with the instructor. I made one lap around the “patch” and she told me to pull up next to the gas pumps. She then turned to me and said “you’re ready.” She told me to take it around the pattern again and land, then taxi up to the pumps and shut down.

I still feel the excitement while taxiing out. It was a sunny but cool morning with a lot of dew on the grass. There was a wind out of the South that made the landing a crosswind that morning. I remember the thrill of accelerating down the grass strip, lifting off, and climbing over Lake Wawasee. I also remember yelling out the biggest scream I have ever yelled. I thought, well I have full tanks and could fly for over four hours, but I better stay in the pattern and try to land this thing. My landing was a little fast and with the crosswind I was very happy there was dew on the grass since I slid a little sideways. I taxied up to the pumps, shut down, and climbed out.

No one told me about the ritual of the “shirt tale” until the instructor took a pair of scissors out and cut the back out of my brand new blue and white stripped shirt my mom had just bought me for school. I have a photo of the occasion and I still have that shirt tucked in my chest of drawers.

That is a day I will never forget because when I went to school that day, I had my pilot’s license and after only 7.6 hours of instruction. I still had to wait a month and a day to receive my driver’s license though. But what a day it was!

Thanks, Eric Coburn

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